UFC on ESPN1 kicked off on Sunday, February 17th, at the Talking Stick Resort Arena, in Phoenix Arizona. It was the first time that the preliminary and main cards of a UFC event were both featured on ESPN, in what should be a lucrative and fruitful endeavor for the UFC and the sport of mixed martial arts.
Although the prelims and main card were stacked with action-packed bouts like Jimmie Rivera vs. Aljamain Sterling, Manny Bermudez vs. Benito Lopez, Ashlee Evans-Smith vs. Andrea Lee, Bryan Barberena vs. Vicente Luque, Andre Fili vs. Myles Jury and Paul Felder vs. James Vick, the main event came up even shorter than Bellator’s horrid main event of MVP vs. Daley the night before.
Whether it was Cain Velasquez’s knee or chin that gave out, I’m sure that we can all agree that the only thing more disappointing than the main event of the night, was the fact that we had to wait three hours to see it. After previously praising ESPN for their uptick in pace and punctuality with their fights the previous weekend, this card seemed to drag on, and it ended about as anti-climatically as it possibly could.
Myles Jury (17-4) vs. Andre Fili (19-6)
The story of the first round of the first fight of the main card of UFC on ESPN 1 was Andre Fili’s jab, as he found his range early and bloodied the nose of Myles Jury halfway through the round. But Jury became more active in the last minute, landing a big left that shook Fili.
The second round started with a high volume of punches from both fighters, with Jury beginning to work his jab, finding his range, and returning the bloodied nose to Fili. But, it was a spinning back fist that dropped Fili to the mat, and Jury pursued and secured the mount with about 30 seconds remaining. It was hard to argue against the fight being 19-19 going into the third.
In the third round, Fili looked more active and accurate, going back to the jab that worked so favorably for him in the first. We noticed a significant drop in volume from Jury, and it costed him the fight. The judges and I all agreed that the fight went 29-28 to Fili.
Victor: Andre Fili, unanimous decision
Vicente Luque (15-6-1) vs. Bryan Barberena (14-6)
In the second fight of the main card we had two fighters with a combined 40 fights between them, in which neither had ever been knocked out. That would be until the final seconds of the final round. Still, it’s more than safe to say that nobody could ever doubt the chin or toughness of either of these two fighters.
The first round was dominated by Luque’s powerful hands, and it seemed that Barberena could not match his power. However, Barberena caught Luque with a big right that dropped him to the canvas. Barberena pursued him there, only to have the position reversed and almost get caught in a D’Arce choke. Barberena toughed it out and escaped the wily Luque, finishing the round on top position delivering heavy uncontested elbows to Luque’s head and face. As great as a comeback round as it was, I scored it 10-9 Luque.
In the second round, Barberena started to really open up, finding his range and getting to the inside of Luque, delivering heavy hands and dirty elbows. Barberena had a significantly higher volume of output as Luque seemed to be visibly slowing down. I had the fight 19-19 going into the third, and I’d have to assume that the judges agreed.
The third round appeared to be Barberena’s, continuing what he started in the second. We were well on our way to the judge’s scorecards where Barberena was almost certainly to get the nod. He had the upper hand in the final two rounds of what would become the most significant strikes ever landed in a fight in Welterweight history. But, Luque delivered a big right hand over the top of Barberena, followed by a knee up the middle that dropped him to the canvas. Luque pounced, but referee Jason Herzog had seen enough to call the TKO with six seconds left in the fight.
Victor: Vicente Luque, 3rd round TKO
Kron Gracie (5-0) vs. Alex Caceres (14-12,1)
After two fights that went the distance, and 80 real-time minutes passed since the main card began, both fans and ESPN alike needed a quick finish, and Kron Gracie delivered in his UFC debut. The Brazilian jiu jitsu extraordinaire lived up to all the hype, quickly securing a takedown, taking the back of Caceres, getting a body lock, and dialing in the rear naked choke.
Victor: Kron Gracie, 1st round submission, rear naked choke
Cynthia Calvillo (8-1) vs. Cortney Casey (8-7)
In the first and only women’s fight on the main card of UFC on ESPN 1, Cynthia Calvillo took on Cortney Casey. Both women spent the first round finding their respective ranges, and engaging in some good exchanges. But, Casey stayed on the outside of Calvillo and appeared to get the best of the round.
The second round was filled with more short combinations from both fighters, but neither really seemed to be able to find their rhythm. I scored it 10-9 Calvillo, and it looked to be 19-19 going into the third.
The third round didn’t bring much more than the second, and boos began emerging from the crowd, not due to a lack of action, but just a lack of rhythm and consistency, as both women seemed to be throwing strikes from too far outside, and neither willing to really commit. The fight did heat up a bit in the last seconds, but I didn’t see enough from Calvillo to give her the round. I scored it 10-9 Casey, for a 29-28 victory over Calvillo.
However, the judges didn’t see it my way, and one of them even scored it 30-27 Calvillo, even though Casey almost doubled Calvillo’s strike total in the third, and in my eyes clearly winning the round. That being said, this is exactly why you can’t put the fight into the hands of the judges, and you’ve got to leave it all in the cage.
Victor: Cynthia Calvillo, unanimous decision
Paul Felder (16-4) vs. James Vick (13-3)
In the co-main event of the evening Paul Felder took on James Vick. Both fighters looked big and strong for Lightweights, and the round began with heavy punches as both men tried to find their range. Felder found his first, and delivered a brutal spinning elbow straight to the mouth of Vick. Vick responded well though, with a big and heavy right, and the round ended with a flurry. I scored the round 10-9 Felder.
The second round began with James Vick locking Felder against the cage, but unfortunately he couldn’t capitalize on the position and he eventually retreated to the center of the Octagon. From this point, Felder really began to control the pace of the fight with his lead-leg calf kicks, and Vick would plow through the rest of the fight with a noticeable limp.
In the third, James Vick seemed to sense that he was behind, and tried to open up on Paul Felder several times. Felder caught Vick with a beautiful counter midway through the round, and Vick’s legs nearly gave way. Both fighters hung on and gave it all they had until the final horn. Unfortunately for Vick, I had the fight scored 30-27 Felder, and two out of the three judges agreed, with the third giving it to Felder 29-28.
Victor: Paul Felder, unanimous decision
Cain Velasquez (14-3) vs. Francis Ngannou (13-3)
For as much hype and excitement as there was leading up to Velasquez vs. Ngannou, it was over in a mere 26 seconds. While we all knew that it could have been a quick fight, nobody could have expected that it would be Velasquez’s knee to give out under the barrage of punches by Ngannou. Ngannou wisely followed up with hammer fists and referee Jason Herzog called the fight.
It was certainly a disappointing fight, but good for Ngannou to boost his confidence and upward momentum in the Heavyweight division. Most importantly, we can be thankful that it doesn’t appear that Cain Velasquez suffered any serious damage to his knee, as we might be able to see him compete again sooner this time rather than later.
Victor: Francis Ngannou, 1st round TKO